War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo Read Free Book Online

Book: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Morpurgo
Tags: Fiction
few miles away we could hear the guns pounding each other day and night incessantly. We saw the cheery soldiers smiling under their tin hats as they marched off to the front line, whistling and singing and joking as they went, and we watched the remnants struggling back haggard and silent under their dripping capes in the rain.
    Every once in a while Trooper Warren would receive a letter from home and he would read it out to me in a guarded whisper in case anyone else should overhear. The letters were all from his mother and they all said much the same thing.
‘ My dear Charlie ,’ he would read. ‘Your Father hopes you are well and so do I. We missed having you with us at Christmas – the table in the kitchen seemed empty without you. But your little brother helps when he can with the work and Father says he’s coming on well even though he’s still a bit little and not strong enough yet to hold the farmhorses. Minnie Whittle, that old widow from Hanniford Farm, died in her sleep last week. She was eighty so she can’t grumble at that, though I expect she would if she could. She was always the world’s worst grumbler, do you remember? Well, son, that’s about all our news. Your Sally from the village sends her best and says to tell you that she’ll be writing soon. Keep safe, dearest boy, and come home soon.
    ‘Your loving Mother.
    ‘But Sally won’t write, Joey, because she can’t, well not very well anyway. But just as soon as this lot’s over and finished with I’ll get back home and marry her. I’ve grown up with her, Joey, known her all my life. S’pose I know her almost as well as I know myself, and I like her a lot better.’
    Trooper Warren broke the terrible monotony of thatwinter. He lifted my spirits and I could see that Topthorn too welcomed every visit he made to the horselines. He never knew how much good he did us. During that awful winter so many of the horses went off to the veterinary hospital and never came back. Like all army horses we were clipped out like hunters so that all our lower quarters were exposed to the mud and rain. The weaker ones amongst us suffered first, for they had little resilience and went downhill fast. But Topthorn and I came through to the spring, Topthorn surviving a severe cough that shook his whole massive frame as if it was trying to tear the life out of him from the inside. It was Captain Stewart who saved him, feeding him up with a hot mash and covering him as best he could in the bleakest weather.
    And then, one ice-cold night in early spring, with frost lying on our backs, the troopers came to the horselines unexpectedly early. It was before dawn. There had been a night of incessant heavy barrage. There was a new bustle and excitement in the camp. This was not one of the routine exercises we had come to expect. The troopers came along the horselines in full service order, two bandoliers, respiratory haversack, rifle andsword. We were saddled up and moved silently out of the camp and onto the road. The troopers talked of the battle ahead and all the frustrations and irritations of imposed idleness vanished as they sang in the saddle. And my Trooper Warren was singing along with them as lustily as any of them. In the cold grey of the night the squadron joined the regiment in the remnants of a little ruined village peopled only by cats, and waited there for an hour until the pale light of dawn crept over the horizon. Still the guns bellowed out their fury and the ground shook beneath us. We passed the field hospitals and the light guns before trotting over the support trenches to catch our first sight of the battle-field. Desolation and destruction were everywhere. Not a building was left intact. Not a blade of grass grew in the torn and ravaged soil. The singing around me stopped and we moved on in ominous silence and out over the trenches that were crammed with men, their bayonets fixed to their rifles. They gave us a sporadic cheer as we clattered over the

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